What’s New on Google Docs?

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on May 28, 2010

Google Docs screenshotLaunched in 2006, Google Docs is built on three web-based applications: word processing; spreadsheets; and, a presentation tool. These free, easy-to-use tools make it possible for users to not only access files from any Internet-connected computer, but also to invite others to view and edit files, supporting real time collaboration at a level not previously possible.

Why blog about a tool that’s nearly four years old? Recently, Google launched several new features making it even easier for users to work collaboratively to create and edit word processing documents, spreadsheet files, and now drawings as well. Here’s a quick rundown on some of the most useful new features.

Word processing: Updated editing capabilities are the main feature here. It’s now possible to see character-by-character editing being done by collaborators without having to refresh the page. This means collaborators can make changes without having to worry about over-writing one another. A chat feature has been added as well so collaborators can ‘talk’ with one another as they work. It is also now possible to format documents using tabs and real margins. As a result, it will be easier to retain formatting when uploading and downloading documents.

Spreadsheets: Speed is a key descriptor for improvements made here. Spreadsheets load faster and are easier to navigate (both scrolling and from sheet to sheet). It’s now possible to edit cells in the formula bar and to drag and drop columns.

Draw: The drawing tool, launched a year ago, made it possible to embed drawings in other files. Now it’s possible to create and collaborate on stand-alone drawings thanks to a new drawing editor that allows users to work collaboratively on individual draw files.

Google Docs has become an indispensable tool for many educators. The price is right, the learning curve is minimal, software compatibility issues are eliminated, and it facilitates true collaboration for educators and students. If you haven’t given Google Docs a try, now is the time. If you are a current user, you’ll definitely appreciate these most recent improvements.

For a quick recap of the information provided here, or to share with colleagues, check out this YouTube video, Introducing a New Google Docs.


Giving Arkansas Preschoolers a Better Chance

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on April 30, 2010

Research shows that language development up to the age of five impacts a child’s success in school throughout his or her academic career. Children who spend these critical years in language rich environments are far more likely to be successful students than are children who do not. But with 20 children in a class, how can teachers insure that all children have ample opportunity to be exposed to high-quality language experiences? And how can teachers increase the likelihood that children will have similar experiences at home?

Marsha Daniels, Director of the South Central Services Cooperative (SCSC) in Camden, AR presented this challenge to staff early in 2009. As a result, 22 Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) preschool teachers and paraprofessionals representing 11 classrooms across SCSC’s service area are leveraging the fact that preschoolers are one of the fastest growing groups of technology users and ready availability of inexpensive mobile technologies such as iPods and Flip cameras to extend their accessibility to youngsters in the classroom and to the children’s parents.

Launched in July 2009, participants have received equipment and training designed to increase children’s language experiences in the classroom and extend the school day by engaging parents in activities they can do with their children at home. The focus for year 1 has been to get the initiative up and running. Each classroom received an iMac desktop computer, an iPod Classic, and a Flip camera. Five days of training scheduled across the 2009-2010 school year and provided by an outside consultant, classroom visitations by the consultant and director, an on-going support provided by SCSC staff have resulted in teachers and paraprofessionals creating monthly podcasts and videos for children and their parents. Participants also each created a classroom wiki site where parents can access these files along with other online resources and news.

The results for year 1 are very positive. Every teacher and paraprofessional has exceeded original expectations. The children are regularly accessing short language-rich podcasts and videos. Parents are slowly, but surely coming to the wiki to use these files with their children at home. The focus in year 2 will be on innovative use of these technologies in lesson design and in helping the children become more independent in their use of the technology.

This project is listed as an exemplary case of blended in- and out of- school learning on the new National Education Technology site. Read more about it!


A Kindle in Every Backpack?

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on August 3, 2009

Which one hides the Kindle?
Which one hides the Kindle?

When Amazon released its second generation Kindle in February 2009, there was speculation that the enhancements in this new device would make it a natural for storing and accessing textbooks. But the limited number of textbooks and other instructional materials available in Kindle format made this seem like a pipe dream. Now, as the true impact of the recent fiscal crisis continues to make itself felt nationwide, there appears to be increased serious interest in schools making a switch to electronic textbooks or ebooks to save money.

Just this month, ABC News and several other news organizations reported on a document released on July 14 by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Titled “A Kindle in Every Backpack,” this report suggests that the government could purchase a Kindle or other ebook reading device for every student in the U.S. so that textbooks could be distributed and updated electronically and to enable teachers to customize instructions for students. The proposal still needs a lot of work, and the initial cost would be high ($9 billion the first four years), but members of the DLC predict that schools would save hundreds of millions of dollars in subsequent years.

Amazon is not the only business looking at this market. There are a number of ebook reading devices currently available as shown in this table. And there are websites like Shortcovers that allow users to purchase and download ebooks onto a variety of devices ranging from ebook readers to laptops, MP3 players and smartphones. In other words, it might be possible for students to shift to use of some electronic texts right away by using devices they already own!

With states scrambling to cover huge deficits, it may be time to serious consider ways this technology could be used to reduce costs and make sure students have access to up-to-date instructional materials in a variety of formats. What are the questions you would ask?


President Obama Appoints Nation’s First Chief Technology Officer

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on April 25, 2009

Last October, Barak Obama promised that if he were elected, he would create a new cabinet-level position. Saying that the United States has not done nearly enough to tap into technology and its potential for creating new jobs, Obama proposed creating the position of Chief Technology Officer (CTO).  Now, six months later, this promise has come to fruition. During his weekly address on April 18, President Obama announced that Aneesh Chopra will be the nation’s first CTO.

Currently serving as Secretary of Technology for the state of Virginia, Chopra’s new position comes with three goals that support the new administration’s top priorities. First, he is charged with promoting use of technology to support job creation. Second, Chopra is to explore ways technology use can be leveraged to reduce health care costs. Finally, he is to focus on use of technology to increase national security.

The business world sees this as a welcome step toward updating and expanding a national infrastructure that recently has received little attention. This sector also views this appointment as a commitment to returning the U.S. to a leadership role in technology-related advances worldwide. But what do educators think about this new position and the impact Mr. Chopra might have on bringing schools into the Digital Age?

Whether it happens in K-12 grades, post-secondary programs, or on-the-job training courses, every one of the three goals listed above must include an education component in order to be successfully implemented. How will education leaders take advantage of this fact to leverage resources and launch innovative programs designed to help the new CTO meet his goals? What related conversations are taking place in your school, district, or region? Share your ideas here.


What’s in Your Digital Dossier?

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on November 20, 2008


“…access to the technologies is not enough. Young people need to learn digital literacy—the skills to navigate the complicated, hybrid world that their peers are growing up in. This type of inequity must be overcome. The costs of leaving the participation gap unaddressed over time will be higher than we should be willing to bear.” (John Palfrey and Urs Gasser,Born Digital, p.15)

An article that appeared in the Houston Chronicle on Nov. 10 underscores the importance of teaching digital literacy starting at a very early age and then on an ongoing basis. The story isn’t new—just the latest in an ongoing saga of students (even school officials) who do not understand that things posted online are public! In this case, a University of Texas football player was expelled from the team after using his Facebook page to post a racial slur about President-elect Obama.

Kids and some adults today have a new take on privacy. Many don’t realize that, even when posted in ‘private’ areas, anything they put online can be accessed if someone wants to badly enough. And we all have plenty of private data posted. Palfrey and Gasser call this collection of data we reveal about ourselves a digital dossier. They argue that although giving up control of this data makes life easier in the short run, we may later regret having been quite so open with this information. They also are concerned that adults are giving their children too much latitude with giving up control of this information because we choose to look the other way rather than teach them how to manage their digital dossiers. Click here to view a short video clip that explains this concept. (Of course, because the clip is posted on YouTube, your school’s filtering software may block it, in which case you may need to wait and watch the clip at home!)

Here are some questions to ponder: What are your thoughts about digital dossiers? How much information can we safely post online and what should we try to protect? What is our responsibility when it comes to teaching children how to protect themselves?